For This L.A. Family, White Walls Presented the Biggest Design Risk
“Restraint, baby…this house is all restraint.”
Published Jan 8, 2024 1:20 AM
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Forget rose-colored glasses: Designer Sally Breer wants you to wear binoculars when viewing this home in L.A.‘s Silver Lake neighborhood. “This whole project, all I wanted to do was crop and zoom in on details,” says Breer. The blue piping on the bouclé bed frame, the sheer overlay on the drapes, the exposed screws of the dining chairs—these small moments shine through thanks to the 2,600-square-foot home’s light and airy atmosphere. “Restraint, baby…this house is all restraint,” she adds.
While Breer has been known to swathe rooms in color (she once painted a client’s kitchen—vent hood and all—teal), this 1928 Spanish-inspired home called for a quiet palette of cream and soft blues and greens. And that decision, shockingly, felt like the biggest risk to the homeowners, Jennifer Vu and Sean Berman (even scarier than having a beekeeper come to remove the two separate hives they uncovered in the walls of the house right after they bought it). “White doesn’t sound very risky, but the one thing we didn’t want was a sterile home,” says Vu.
Architect Seb Zecchetto and contractor Dan Medina of HighGroundLA created a sense of warmth right off the bat by cladding the ceiling in white oak panels and batons instead of traditional heavy-looking box beams. “We thought a lot about how to adapt historical Spanish buildings and give it a new, contemporary twist,” says Zecchetto. Breer focused on selecting trim for the can lights so that they would effectively disappear into the wood. “Our whole life is trying to get rid of lighting,” she says with a laugh.
Eliminating case goods was also on her mind, as she didn’t want the house to feel cluttered with a bunch of furniture. In the living room, a long stretch of built-in cabinets offers plenty of storage for the things Vu and Berman use a lot but don’t necessarily want to look at. “Like the box for the TV, lightbulbs, batteries, puzzles, board games, and a collection of film and random cameras I’ve collected,” explains Vu. Where they couldn’t incorporate millwork or alcoves, Breer customized furniture to make it look one with the house, such as the couple’s extra-long nightstands that appear to extend all the way to the wall.
Even the living room sectional has a sense of permanence: It’s so big, why would anyone ever move it? “It’s pretty gargantuan,” says the designer. The superlow piece has become a signature of Breer’s, although the custom couch, which is similar in style to the one in her own home, wasn’t the first she picked out for her clients. Before construction had even begun, Breer proposed a vintage leather Mario Bellini sofa with an intricate braided back, knowing that the detailing would be the first thing you’d see when you walk in the room. “Understandably, they were like, ‘We don’t even know what the rest of the house will look like yet; we can’t do it,’” she recalls. Eventually pivoting to this sectional, Breer made sure to get the dimensions just right, mostly so as to not obstruct the view. “I really like a 26-inch back height and the seat depth is a dream at 30 inches if you can get it,” she reveals. “A 16-inch seat height is my personal [preference], but it definitely is situational.”
In true California style, large French doors allow Berman and Vu’s two children to go from building an obstacle course with their blocks to running around the yard. Making this connection was no small feat, though. Previously, the only way to get outside was through a side door in the laundry room. “You could alternatively exit to the sidewalk and enter the garden through a side gate,” recalls Zecchetto. “So the indoor-to-outdoor experience was a bit like leaving your house.”
Now from the large daybed in the playroom, Mom and Dad can monitor everything. Well, almost everything. The secret hideout underneath the stairs is a no-adults-allowed zone. “It’s a fun space just for them to play with their friends or read with their stuffed animals,” says Vu.
The house itself provides endless entertainment for the adults, too, whether it’s the 13 kilim rugs that have been tediously stitched together to make a singular stair runner or Zoe Young’s painting Squid Ink Pasta for Breakfast Before Breakfast at Tiffany’s over the living room credenza. “I’ve looked at it every morning for two years and always seem to find something new,” says Berman.